Friday, September 15, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and A Call to Action

The good news first. As the lead in this morning’s story in the New York Times states:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 — President Bush and Congressional Republicans spent the last 10 days laying the foundation for a titanic pre-election struggle over national security, and now they have one. But the fight playing out this week on Capitol Hill is not what they had in mind.

Instead of drawing contrasts with Democrats, the president’s call for creating military tribunals to try terror suspects — a key substantive and political component of his fall agenda — has erupted into a remarkably intense clash pitting some of the best-known warriors in the Republican Party against Mr. Bush and the Congressional leadership.

This is a delightful turn. As I remarked yesterday, the President’s hard-assed all-out push for this legislation is forcing rubberstamp Republicans to makes some politically uncomfortable choices. No matter how “ticking time bomb” you want to get, having to say “I believe in torture” is just not a big vote-getter. For instance, I love seeing quotes like this one:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said: “I just think John McCain is wrong on this. If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it.”

That has the triple advantage of having a Republican go on record a) advocating for torture, b) slighting a former POW, torture survivor, and (theoretically) moral pillar of his Party, and c) sounding clueless as to how to fight terrorism.

Now, of course, the Democrats have to show they can capitalize on this schism. If they remain content to sit on the sidelines in the hope that the Republicans will continue to eat their own, they will get a rude surprise after they recess. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) observes in the same Times article,

At the end of the day, they will forget John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner and say it is all about the Democrats holding up President Bush’s plan to make American [sic] safer.

Durbin says the Democrats are not going to “take this sitting down,” but let’s hope some in the party are a little more proactive, and stand up before they have to “take it.”

Now for the Bad. No matter who inside the Republican caucus wins this political battle, the actual legislation that emerges will make sure that we all lose. Whether it’s the Frist/Bush bill or the Warner/McCain/Graham plan, the legislation to emerge from this session will destroy the rights of detainees to challenge indefinite detention. Both bills contain language that would retroactively strip the courts of jurisdiction in habeas petitions for current detainees, in addition to preventing petitions of habeas corpus to be heard in courts for future captives.

As the Center for Constitutional Rights makes clear, any talk of limiting torture is effectively moot if individuals can be held indefinitely without ever coming before a court or being permitted to challenge their detention. Under either Republican plan, a “unitary executive” would still be allowed to lock the door and throw away the key. . . and what goes on behind that door need never come to light.

Again, it is essential, from both a political and a moral standpoint, that the Democrats don’t simply sit on the sidelines while Republicans craft wholly un-American legislation. It is not only politically profitable to tar the Republicans with the label of torturer, it is principled to fight the Constitutional and personal abuse.

And, it is not only possible to call attention to the immorality, it is also possible to use this issue to highlight the incompetence. It is likely that because the US tortured so-called “High Value Detainees,” they could never be convicted in a criminal court. It prevents the country from standing for truth, justice, and “all that good stuff,” and prevents the American people from feeling the satisfaction of trying and convicting the alleged “evil-doers.”

Further, as was reiterated by former Secretary of State and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell on Thursday, stripping habeas rights and suborning torture puts American soldiers at reciprocally greater risk, and causes the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

All of this makes it clear, it is as easy as it is right to fight both of these Republican proposals. But will our Senators do it? It’s up to each of us to make sure they do.

Below is a list of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Call them, especially if you are a constituent, and state clearly that you oppose both the Frist bill and the Warner/McCain/Graham proposal, as well. Tell them why. And tell them today.

You can also send your Senator a fax through an action page on the CCR website.

This is urgent and important—please take these actions as soon as you can.

In addition, you can call your Senators—especially the Democrats—and tell them that if any bill comes to the floor that strips habeas rights, you expect them to filibuster. Habeas Corpus is not a political football—it is part of who we are as Americans. Tell them this one is non-negotiable.

Thank you.

John Warner (R – VA) (202) 224-2023
John McCain (R – AZ) (202) 224-2235
James Inhofe (R – OK) (202) 224-4721
Pat Roberts (R – KS) (202) 224-4774
Jeff Sessions (R- AL) (202) 224-4124
Susan Collins (R – ME) (202) 224-2523
John Ensign (R – NV) (202) 224-6244
James Talent (R – MO) (202) 224-6154
Saxby Chambliss (R – GA) (202) 224-3521
Lindsey Graham (R – SC) (202) 224-5972
Elizabeth Dole (R – NC) (202) 224-6342
John Cornyn (R – TX) (202) 224-2934
John Thune (R – SD) (202) 224-2321
Carl Levin (D – MI) (202) 224-6221
Edward Kennedy (D – MA) (202) 224-4543
Robert Byrd (D – WV) (202) 224-3954
Joe Lieberman (D – CT) (202) 224-4041
Jack Reed (D – RI) (202) 224-4642
Daniel Akaka (D – HI) (202) 224-6361
Bill Nelson (D – FL) (202) 224-5274
Benjamin Nelson (D – NE) (202) 224-6551
Mark Dayton (D – MN) (202) 224-3244
Evan Bayh (D – IN) (202) 224-5623
Hillary Clinton (D – NY) (202) 224-4451

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)


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